Friday, 02 September 2022

Speech at the National Jobs and Skills Summit

Thank you Minister O’Neil.

Since the borders opened, many have re-discovered that visa processing is an essential – fundamental – function of national government.

As the Prime Minister reflected on Monday, if the government of the day treats the public service with respect and professionalism, public administration will improve.

This is of course true for visa processing, an aspect of public administration too long neglected- with far reaching consequences for our economy, and our society.

Australia’s visa system rests heavily on the shoulders of hundreds of people across the country. This system, these people represent the foundation on which so many of the aspirations we are discussing here rest.

Since I became Minister, I have met with visa processing staff around Australia to thank them for the critical work they are doing, and to discuss the task ahead.

There were almost a million visas waiting for this government after the election.

Today, that number is around 900,000.

We understand that when people wait and wait, the uncertainty can become unmanageable.

Since I became Minister, I have heard hundreds of stories of people waiting for their visa application to be progressed. 

Partners separated, not knowing when they would see each other again.

Businesses unable to plan an investment decision because they don’t know when their applications will be finalised.

This is not good enough, and reflects a visa system that has been in crisis.

This government is getting on with the job of ending this crisis.

Since the election, an additional 180 staff are working on visa processing.

Right now, 190 staff are being on-boarded, and up to 200 staff are working regular overtime.

Because visa processing is critical to an effective migration system, for individuals, including workers and for businesses.

The point of a temporary skilled visa is to facilitate workers into high-wage jobs quickly. This has been frustrated by delay.

Now, the median number of days it takes for a person coming to Australia on a temporary skilled visa is down, from 53 days in May, to 42 days in July.

And the median time taken to approve new businesses for sponsorship has halved, from 37 days to 18. 

The border closure also wreaked havoc for Australia’s higher education sector and many of our regions.

Again, our repair work is well under way.

In May, students outside of Australia had to wait on average 40 days for their visa. Today, that figure is down to 31.

Importantly, over half of all working holiday visas for young people overseas are now finalised in less than a day.

The actions we are taking are making a difference- but we recognise there is more to do.

And we will do more to clear this backlog, and set up our visa system to meet the challenges of the future.  

We will invest 36.1 million dollars in visa processing, to surge staff capacity by 500 people for the next nine months.

In addition to clearing the backlog, this will help deliver the permanent migration program that Minister O’Neil just spoke to.

The backlog will be cleared.

Waiting times will continue to come down.

We will address this crisis, while looking to position Australia to realise our potential as a reconciled nation that harnesses the great strength of our diversity.

This is the beginning, not the end.

Immigration is about nation building.

Central to this is the manner in which people are welcomed after they have made the decision to make Australia their home – for a period of time, or for the rest of their lives.

We want, indeed we need, people to choose Australia.

And our processes and policies must work together to support that choice.

Getting this right in the national interest, is my focus: listening to, and working with the people in this room and the millions of Australians who are our migration story.

Thank you.